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Missionary Diary: The Spiritual Discipline of Fishing

by ervte

Zoe serves at CMS under the Anglican Diocese in the Northern Territory. She focuses on language learning and relationship building in her first year in the community. She prays that God will use her as a church supporter to encourage indigenous church leaders in Ngukurr and surrounding areas.Missionary Diary: The Spiritual Discipline of Fishing

I have this conversation almost daily. When I applied to become a church supporter in remote Arnhem Land, I didn’t realize I would spend so much time fishing.

I’ve been in Ngukurr for two months, and it’s mixed emotions. The joy of being welcomed and getting to know my Aboriginal family. The frustration of my ‘baby language’ when I learn Kriol. The natural beauty of this landscape. The constant drop of sweat, as daily temperatures range between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius. The fascinating lessons in bush skills from the church ladies. And all these emotions are brought together in one chaotic Technicolor kaleidoscope when we go fishing.

I finish what I’m doing and pack the car. Handlines, cold water, bait, billy can, camping chairs, and maybe some bananas if I’m hungry and pessimistic about the prospect of fish. I drive to my friend’s house to pick her up. It turns out her sister and niece are coming too.

Before we go, my friend has to go to the store. There we see my Aboriginal sister asking for a ride home because walking is too hot. When we drop her off, her mother asks if she can come fishing with her grandson too. I must tell her we don’t have room, but I’ll try to take her again. I drive away feeling satisfied with my culturally appropriate “no” that didn’t mean I said no, while mentally adding her to my ever-growing list of people I need to go fishing.

I listen and pray for wisdom and cultural insight.

We were finally ready to drive to the billabong an hour after I left my house.

As we drive, the ladies treat me to stories from their childhood. The old “mission days” were tough in many ways, but their childhood had a simplicity, and they talk fondly of the whites who were safe people in a world that was changing too quickly. They complain about their children, who seem to go straight from children to adults. We discuss family life and community life. I listen and pray for wisdom and cultural insight. I long to share life with these ladies and support them, but trust takes time. So I hear and pray.

“Wujay wi gada go?” I ask as we come to a fork in the lane. It’s the first Kriol phrase I’ve learned and is one of the most used.

“Straight ahead.”

I take the path that I think is ‘straight ahead. It turned out to be the other ‘straight on. I pull up, back up, and take the other away. As the passengers laugh at my mistake, I take a deep breath and remind myself that a vulnerable mission is a goal.

Others are at the billabong before us, so we cruise the winding paths until we find a quiet spot. Everyone has found their place within five minutes, and the lines are in the water. For the next hour, there is no movement and no talking.

No one talks, but all creation cries out. A brolga watches the opposite banks and calls out to his mate. The gums above him rustle gently, and the occasional barramundi comes out of its watery abode. I wonder, unemployed, if they’re jumping for food or fun. There is certainly joy when creation exists as it was made. A turtle emerges near a lily pad. My mind is calmed when I remember that our Father in Heaven clothes the water lilies of the billabong.

I am ashamed of my individualistic mindset when I think about the generosity of my collectivist culture friends.

My musings are interrupted by cries of delight. Someone caught a big catfish! We’re going to have a nice dinner this afternoon. The search for firewood begins. It must be a wall when we make vapor, and when we eat fish, there is no doubt that we have fog.

Before long, the pleasant aroma of roasted catfish rises, and fatty little cakes of vapor are whipped to remove the ash after cooking. Some relatives show up; they, too, are fed. I have a twinge of frustration at the injustice. They didn’t fish, so why should they share the bounty? Then for the millionth time, I am ashamed of my individualistic mindset as I reflect on the generosity of my collectivist culture friends.

Soon the sun sinks low. Black cockatoos wriggle through the air with their screams. There is a reason they are called ‘dark here. Try saying it out loud, dark mark. Dragonflies pastime: I’ve been told it’s a sign that the dry season is coming. Fishing in 40 degrees takes more godliness than I have some days. Praise the good Lord.

As we make our way home, everyone is raving about our good food, and I know the story will be told many times over in the coming days. But right now, I’m tired. I smell like fishing bait, and I long for a cold shower. I came north to “support Aboriginal church leaders and encourage the next generation of Christian leaders.” It sounds impressive when you say it on a church stage. But in reality, today, it meant that some Christian sisters had to fish with them because they needed a place to clear their heads.

Sometimes serving here means talking; sometimes, it’s sitting still; sometimes, it’s a shared experience like fishing. We are not the first to experience the spiritual discipline of fisheries. The resurrected Christ chose the scene of a lakeside fire to minister to his sorrowing disciples after a fortifying meal of vapor and fish (John 21). Perhaps Christ was in our midst today as we broke bread and shared a meal, serving His people again.

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